“This is not going to go the way you think.” Those are Luke Skywalker‘s words of warning to Rey, who believes that she can turn Kylo Ren (formerly a Jedi apprentice by the name of Ben Solo) back to the light. Luke is right, of course. When Rey confronts Ben on Supreme Leader Snoke’s flagship, Supremacy, she discovers an ambush. Snoke had in fact manipulated a still impressionable and emotionally distressed Kylo into luring Rey to the ship by creating a sort of Force channel between the two. Their connection – which likely has a larger significance to the story than just a trap – gives Rey hope that she can turn Kylo against his master and the First Order.
Rey is right about one of those things. In a shocking moment at the tail end of the second act, Kylo strikes his master down – a victory his grandfather, Darth Vader, could have only dreamed of – and names himself the new Supreme Leader. In terms of finishing what Vader started, Kylo is very close indeed. There’s only one loose end: the last Jedi, his former master, Luke Skywalker.
As noted by our own Kayti Burt, The Last Jedi diverges from The Force Awakens in a big way: the film isn’t about a singular hero trying to defeat an evil tyrannical force. While Rey does get her moment in the spotlight, her part in the story is largely over by the end of the second act. Other than some great shooting while zooming through Crait on the Millennium Falcon and a last minute save with the Force during the standoff between the Resistance and the First Order, Rey has played her part. Instead, The Last Jedi‘s climactic battle on Crait – a brief one, in fact – explores the ensemble as a whole, all of these heroes inspired and joined together to fight back against the First Order’s tyranny.
The Last Jedi doesn’t actually cover a lot of time or space. In fact, the movie is largely a prolonged chase sequence between the First Order and the Resistance, which is on its last breath after the attack on Starkiller Base. After General Leia is injured during a TIE bombing run on the bridge of the Resistance capital ship, Raddus (named after the Mon Calamari admiral who led the assault on Scarif in Rogue One), Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes over command of the fleet as it outruns the First Order. Holdo’s plan is to speed towards Crait, the location of an old Rebel base that was established when Leia and Holdo were teenagers. That’s where the Resistance will take its last stand against its pursuers.
But things look more hopeless than ever after the Resistance, led once again by a recovering Leia, finds itself trapped in the base while the First Order prepares to fire a cannon almost as powerful as the Death Star at the base’s giant reinforced door. The bad guys have also rolled up with a battalion of AT-M6 gorilla walkers to keep the Resistance from launching a counterattack. If things are starting to look a bit like the Battle of Hoth here, it’s because writer-director Rian Johnson bookends the movie with situations reminiscent to The Empire Strikes Back‘s famous icy showdown. Both the opening desperate escape from D’Qar and the final confrontation are ripped straight out of the ice planet. Heck, Crait might as well be called “Salt Hoth” – at least according to our reviewer.
Despite the odds, the Resistance launches an attack on the First Order’s cannon, which is almost ready to fire on the door, using dilapidated ski speeders to zoom across the battlefield. Poe is forced to order a retreat after the rebels find themselves too heavily outnumbered and outmatched. While the Millennium Falcon has arrived to lure away the squadron of TIE fighters shooting down the ski speeders, the Resistance is still no match for the walkers. Poe, who has finally learned that not every battle can be won with bravado and crazy action hero antics, knows its time to back off, but Finn – who has finally discovered something to fight for – charges at the cannon in a suicidal attempt to save the Resistance.
It’s only through Rose Tico’s explosive intervention – she crashes into Finn to save his life – that he survives. It’s clear from their kiss and Finn’s worried expression over an unconscious Rose after their escape on the Falcon that these two are set to become the Sequel Trilogy’s first couple. This is spectacular, not only due to the fact that they make a great team and play off each other well, but because they’re two characters of color and are given their own meaty storyline to explore. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for these two in The Rise of Skywalker.
With the Resistance’s last-ditch effort to stop the First Order from firing the cannon that spells their complete doom thwarted, it looks like the bad guys have finally won. Then something amazing happens: Luke appears in the flesh (or so it seems). One last time. To save the rebels.
Luke’s arrival serves several storytelling purposes. Not only has Luke come to buy the Resistance enough time to find a way to escape the base, which apparently only has one exit – the same one that First Order is about to blast through – he has also come to say one final goodbye to his sister and face his former apprentice. Most of all, Luke’s final act of heroism is meant to be a beacon of hope for the rebels who will be left to fight the bad guys after he is gone.
The old Jedi Master deliberately creates a giant stage for himself – one man versus a whole army and its mad leader – in order to confirm his legend, the spark that will light the fire within the rebellion once again. In The Force Awakens, Luke is presented as a mythical figure, and the broken Jedi Master is able to confirm his status in this climactic showdown.
Kylo, clearly shaken by his former master’s arrival, commands all of his forces to fire on Luke. Despite a barrage of laser fire that makes even General Hux cringe, Luke appears unscathed. The new Supreme Leader is forced to come deal with the Jedi himself.
The most devastating moment in Kylo’s story comes during his final conversation with Luke. He asks his former master, whom has spent his old age lamenting his failure to save Ben from the dark side, if he’s come to forgive Kylo for all of the terrible things he’s done. Luke simply responds, “No.” (And how amazing is Mark Hamill at delivering all of these deadpan lines in the movie?) This, in conjunction with Rey closing the literal and metaphorical door between herself and Kylo, indicates that the fallen Jedi is finally out of chances for redemption. In The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo will be truly alone and likely will have to lie in the grave he dug for himself. All hope is lost for the return of Ben Solo.
Luke’s moment with Leia is much sweeter. He apologizes to her for failing Ben and for the fact that he’s now come to presumably kill her son. Leia accepts that she’s lost Ben already (literally no one believes in Kylo anymore) and embraces Luke as her brother. The twins share a final moment with a piece of memorabilia from their first adventure: Han’s lucky dice, which hung in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. (This is a really awesome callback to A New Hope. Fun fact: the dice only appear in one scene in the entire Original Trilogy and never show up again.) Luke gifts the dice to Leia in remembrance for the loved one they both lost.
In reality, the scene is bittersweet since Carrie Fisher died only months after filming had wrapped on The Last Jedi in 2016. This makes Luke’s goodbye to Leia weigh even heavier.
Luke’s duel with Kylo is a deception. Not only is he distracting the First Order from chasing after the last few Resistance fighters, but he’s not even really on Crait at all! Luke, who undoubtedly grew even more powerful in the 30 years between Return of the Jedi and the Sequel Trilogy before he closed himself off to the Force on Ahch-To, projects himself onto the planet all the way from his sanctuary. It also explains why Luke looks younger all of a sudden even though he’s looked old and disheveled for much of the movie. My theory for Luke’s projected appearance is that the Jedi Master wants to shake Kylo Ren further by showing him the face of the master he betrayed all those years before.
“Force projection” has never come up in the film saga before, although there is precedent for this power in the old, non-canon Expanded Universe. In the Dark Empire series, in which a resurgent Emperor finally turns Luke to the dark side, a Jedi is able to project doubles of himself when needed. There’s also a sort of “Force projection” in the Dawn of the Jedi comic series, which tells the origin story of the Jedi and the Sith, where agents of the dark are able to project “shadows” of themselves to explore distant planets and travel long distances without leaving their point of origin.
Wherever Luke found this new technique (probably from those old Jedi texts?), it clearly takes a lot of energy and power to perform. Luke’s plan to save the Resistance will ultimately cost him his life, as the projection seems to feed on his life force.
Luke and Kylo’s duel is brief, as the Jedi Master evades the Supreme Leader’s attacks without ever actually swinging his lightsaber. (There’s a pretty cheesy “bullet time” moment during this scene.) When Luke’s sure that the Resistance has finally found a way out of the base – they follow that crystal fox, which is actually called a vulptex, to an exit – he pulls the rug from under Kylo.
Johnson subverts our expectations here. While The Force Awakens trained us to expect nostalgia from the Sequel Trilogy, The Last Jedi spends a lot of time twisting what we think is going to happen based on what we know from the original three films. In Luke’s final moments, we expect that the Jedi Master is going to lower his lightsaber so that Kylo can strike him down and make him more powerful than the villain could possibly imagine. But when Kylo finally delivers the killing blow, Luke is unharmed. In fact, the blade goes through Luke like nothing.
In a moment that brings back memories of his buddy Han, Luke delivers the best line of the movie: “See you around, kid.” Kylo, who has been led by his anger and is nowhere near as calculating as Snoke (whose own overconfidence is his demise, admittedly), realizes he’s been duped as Luke disappears before his eyes.
Luke’s final moments are spent peacefully on Ahch-To. While his nephew is unable to redeem himself in the movie, Luke dies knowing that he was able to save the galaxy one last time and instill new hope in the rebellion. He disappears while watching twin suns in the sky – a callback to his famous scene on Tatooine in A New Hope. This is indicative that Luke’s on his way to turn into a Force ghost. His final words to Kylo might, in fact, serve as both a warning and taunt.
Before we move on from Luke’s death, I have to mention that Johnson sort of stretches the rules of what Force ghosts can and cannot due to the limit. For the most part, through 40 years of Star Wars lore, Force ghosts have been unable to interact physically with anything. But in The Last Jedi, Yoda seems to regain physical form and is able to light the tree with the old books on fire. Does this mean that Luke will also be able to regain some semblance of his physical form in The Rise of Skywalker? After all, I assume we’ve not seen the last of Luke in the Sequel Trilogy. His death is just too sudden, and his sacrifice too soon, for it to be the end of Skywalker. Besides, who will continue to guide Rey as she rebuilds the Jedi Order?
The final moments of the film see the return of Rey, who uses the Force to clear the rocks blocking the hidden exit from the Rebel base. All of the heroes quickly board the Millennium Falcon and make their escape. But not before Rey has one final Force chat with Kylo – a brief one, which indicates that Rey is done trying to save Ben Solo. She closes the Falcon’s entry ramp on Kylo without a word.
One of the questions on fans’ minds in the lead up to The Last Jedi was how would Johnson handle Carrie Fisher’s sudden death and Leia’s exit from the franchise? While the director first tricks us with what will probably become one of the most controversial scenes in a Star Wars movie – Leia being blown out of the bridge of her ship and subsequently surviving the cold vacuum of space with a little help from the Force – we find out by the end that the general lives to fight another day. She smiles happily as all of her friends hang out in the Millennium Falcon – a shot reminiscent of Return of the Jedi.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi handles Fisher’s death by not addressing it at all. It remains to be seen if The Rise of Skywalker will give Leia a proper ending. If she does die during the final chapter of the Sequel Trilogy, the Resistance will need a new leader to guide them. This is probably why The Last Jedi spends so much time setting up Poe as the next leader of the rebellion.
The final scene of Episode VIII feels a little tacked on. We’re back on Canto Bight and one of the slave boys who was working on fathier stables is seen using the Force to pick up his broom. His nonchalant use of the Force – it’s VERY sudden – seems to indicate that the Force has awoken in more people across the galaxy in the wake of Luke’s sacrifice on Crait. The boy looks up at the sky, a ship flying off in the distance, and then down at his ring, which reveals a Rebel insignia.
What does this coda mean? Throughout the movie, Leia, Poe, Holdo, and the other heroes talk about inspiring more allies to join the fight. When they send out a distress signal from Crait, the Resistance is hoping that other systems will come to their aid. Only Luke answers, but that’s a huge boost to rebel morale and it’s likely that more freedom fighters are ready to join the war effort. The ring, which was passed down to the boy by Rose Tico, is a symbol of the growing spark of Rebellion, a Resistance renewed.
Perhaps this boy is destined to be part of a new generation of Jedi. The boy, who is stuck on Canto Bight for now, admires ships passing by, just as Rey did on Jakku and Luke did on Tatooine, hopeful that he’ll one day be able to get off that rock and adventure across the galaxy. Don’t forget the first rule of Star Wars: there must always be a new hope.